The town of Kingsbridge lies within the South Hams in the southern part of Devon, four miles from the sea and in an area of outstanding natural beauty. It is an ancient market town retaining much of its original architecture and is surrounded by agricultural land. Farming plays a major part in the area and local produce is sold in the twice-monthly farmers market. Kingsbridge is a town with a very local feel and is a bustling place, especially on its thrice-weekly market days. Visitors will sense that this is not just a holiday destination but also a town with a lively community and vibrant social life. Although the town has some nationwide chain stores the majority of shops are privately owned giving Kingsbridge a special feel. Here you will find a delightful variety of goods not found in a larger town, something different and unusual to take home after your holiday. Also many small cafes and restaurants serving locally produced food and drink.

Kingsbridge lies at the head of an estuary. It is situated in one of the southernmost parts of the country and has its own rare climate leading to habitats supporting unique species of plants and seaweed. It is also home to a type of sea slug thought to be unique to this estuary. Kingsbridge estuary was designated a marine Site of Special Scientific Interest in 1987 by Natural England for its high diversity and quality of marine habitats. It is also a marine local nature reserve, a wonderful place for walking and bird watching. A guide to walking around the estuary is available from the Tourist Information Office.

Throughout the year the town stages many events for all ages. In mid June the town fills with musicians and the sound of live music can be heard from cafes, pubs and in open public spaces. This is a great opportunity to hear quality bands and musicians, all from the South West playing live and offering brilliant entertainment. A diverse choice of musical styles, there is something for everyone. The festival covers all genres from folk to choral, blues, jazz and barbershop. Also on hand are musicians offering workshops and taster sessions. All this is achieved through the hard work and generosity of local people.

In mid July is Kingsbridge Fair Week, which begins on a Saturday with the crowning of the Fair Queen and is followed by a packed week of family events. King Henry VI granted the first Fair charter in 1461 allowing the townspeople to hold a fair and market. In earlier times the fair had a more serious, commercial side, it was a time when rents were paid, debts settled and livestock bought and sold. The more light-hearted fair we see today is a modern slant put on an ancient tradition. To add gravity to the week and keep its link with ancient times the town mayor reads the fair charter publicly and a garland is hoisted on the Shambols in Fore Street, a sign that the fair is in progress.

Christmas is a very special time in Kingsbridge. Catch the Christmas spirit by joining traders and shoppers on the first Saturday in December when ‘Kingsbridge celebrates Christmas’. The day includes a farmers market in the morning on the quay, followed by a car free Fore Street, to make way for buskers, bands, carol singers, craft stalls, a youth market and pantomime characters. Father Christmas will be in his grotto in the afternoon while the churches will be open for teas, mince pies and much more. Car parking is free on this day.
Kingsbridge is only a short distance from the coast and therefore close to the South West Coast path. This is a magnificent stretch of coastline and well worth exploring on foot or by car. From Salcombe to Bolt Head is a walk that takes in Sharpitor and the Overbeck’s Gardens owned by the National Trust. This was the home of Otto Overbeck and houses the weird and wonderful collections of this scientific inventor. Have coffee and cakes in the café here and walk on up to the headland for magnificent views across Bolbury down to Bolt Tail. From the other side of the estuary you can walk from East Portlemouth to Prawle Point and on to Prawle village where you will find refreshment in one of the two pubs in the village. Further on is Start Point where the lighthouse is open to the public; children find a visit here especially interesting. Walk on just a few miles to see all that remains of Hallsands, the village that, almost overnight, fell into the sea. The villages around Kingsbridge are delightfully picturesque and a day spent exploring will reveal medieval churches, cob thatched cottages, green lanes and rich farmland.

Kingsbridge is rich in history. The area has been inhabited for at least 20,000 years and by the Bronze Age was well settled. Iron Age Celts built hill forts for defence and settlement and remains of these can be found in the area. The Romans and Saxons settled here and the first written mention is in an Anglo-Saxon charter of King Edgar in 962. Originally two medieval towns a quarter of a mile apart now one town, Kingsbridge was once regarded as the capital of the South Hams and of commercial importance. The area was passed to the Abbot of Buckfast some time after the Norman Conquest. The Abbot was granted the right to hold a market in the town in 1219 and produce from the Abbey lands, vegetables, fruit, honey and cream was sold here. The town became prosperous under the Abbots who built mills and established an outlet for wool and other Abbey produce. Kingsbridge was never the thriving port that Dartmouth is but has always been a busy industrious centre exporting such goods as wool, cider and barley. During the Napoleonic wars trade increased, and tanneries, foundries, flourmills and a sawmill were built. The history of Kingsbridge is well displayed at the Cookworthy Museum, housed in the old grammar school in the main street. It houses artefacts from the early history of the town to the present day, agricultural tools, costumes and a photographic collection dating from the 1870s. Children are actively encouraged by the staff to discover for themselves all that the museum has to offer.

The Kingsbridge area is the perfect place for families, with a huge choice of things to do and places to visit all within a few miles. You will find that the pace of life is slow and the people welcoming.


South Devon

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15 January 2010